Evangelical Christians from the United States and Great Britain and many of the world’s leading climate experts recently gathered at Oxford University’s St. Anne’s College for a three-day conference on global warming.
A strong statement issued by the conference participants, the Oxford Declaration on Global Warming,could help provide the foundation for a serious and sustained evangelical response to this threat to God’s creation.
The Oxford Declaration’s importance arises not merely from its words, but also from its signatories. Signers include some of the leading climate experts in the world, such as Dr. Robert Watson, until recently the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (before the Bush administration removed him), and Sir John Houghton, former co-chairman of the Scientific Assessment Working Group of the IPCC.
The IPCC, a joint effort of the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Programme, comprises the world’s leading climate scientists and policy experts from government, business and academia. Its reports have been the basis for the 1992 Rio treaty on climate change, as well as the Kyoto Protocol.
Signatories also include important evangelical leaders from the United States, such as the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik is the first NAE senior official to deal seriously and publicly with global warming.
Given that the NAE represents 55 U.S. evangelical denominations on policy matters in Washington, D.C., Cizik’s signature is a significant step for mainstream evangelicals on this issue.
The conference organizers were Houghton, now chairman of the John Ray Initiative, and Prof. Calvin DeWitt, director of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, both Christian organizations.
In an open letter to the evangelical Christian community, Houghton and DeWitt stated that they “personally have been challenged by the overwhelming scientific evidence that global human-induced climate change (more popularly known as global warming) poses a serious threat to all of God’s creation, especially the poor.”
The letter concluded that because global climate change will hurt all people—and especially the poor—it violates the Great Commandments to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, and the Golden Rule to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The letter therefore calls upon churches “to act with us to reduce the threat of global climate change.”
The declaration itself recognizes that “God has demonstrated his commitment to creation in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ, who ‘reconciles all things’ (Colossians 1:20), calls his followers to the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19).” Thus, “the Christian community has a special obligation to provide moral leadership and an example of caring service to people and to all God’s creation” by seriously addressing global warming.
Because of global warming’s profound threat, the Oxford Declaration states, “we must take immediate steps to stabilize the climate. This means reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide (the most important greenhouse gas) to below 1990 levels well before the middle of the 21st century.”
From the perspective of justice, the declaration acknowledged, “While industrialized nations have largely caused the problem, its most severe effects fall upon the peoples of developing countries. Industrialized countries need therefore to make much greater reductions in emissions in order to allow for economic growth in developing countries.”
The declaration concludes by calling all nations to work together to address the problem, and urges ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol—which the Bush administration has rejected.
Jim Ball is Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change at the Evangelical Environmental Network and author of the award-winning book, “Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.”